Grant spurs group's interest in preserving 2 sites
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
By LINDA LISANTI
PHILLIPSBURG -- The Phillipsburg Riverview Organization may try to block two hotly contested housing developments proposed in Warren County now that it has been awarded a $500,000 matching grant from Green Acres.
Mike King, chairman of the nonprofit group whose mission is to preserve the rural character of Warren and Hunterdon counties, recently announced the funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Garden State Preservation Trust.
The money is not yet earmarked, King said, but the organization has identified two properties as frontrunners -- the 125-acre Baker tract in Washington Borough and the 60-acre Brandywine site in Franklin Township.
He said both tracts are of ecological importance, but are being eyed by developers for future housing developments.
In Washington, Baker Residential is pushing for a settlement that would allow it to build up to 162 townhouses in the southwest section of the municipality. Officials postponed a vote on the matter earlier this month after a roomful of residents attacked the proposal.
King said the Baker tract has the state's second highest recharge rating, at 12 to 15 inches of water each year. Recharge measures the movement of water from a land surface into an aquifer. He said that piece of land is "crucial for anybody drinking water between there and the Delaware River."
Borough officials refused to comment on whether they were in favor of the possibility of preservation, citing ongoing litigation.
The property has been the subject of lawsuits since 2002, when Baker's original proposal for 224 single-family units was denied.
In 2003, officials rezoned about 150 acres of land including the Baker property as a mountain district, which allows only single-family detached homes at a density of one unit per 3 acres. Under the proposed settlement, the area would be rezoned as a townhouse district, allowing a density of 1.3 units per acre.
In terms of the property's ownership, borough Councilman Alex Buove said that would be an issue to be worked out between the developer and the Phillipsburg Riverview Organization.
In Franklin Township, M. Rieder Companies wants to build 120 townhouses on the Brandywine site near Route 57 and Asbury-Broadway Road. The size and density of the proposed homes has been a point of contention with some community members.
In the 1980s, another builder proposed about 300 condominiums for the property, officials said. Township officials rejected the proposal and were sued by the builder. The township was forced to amend its zoning to allow townhouses on the site, including about seven affordable housing units to satisfy the township's obligation with the state Council of Affordable Housing.
The property is on a creek classified as Category 1 -- the state's highest level of water protection --that would surely be affected by the high density, according to King.
Township Mayor Larry Adams said Monday the community has been trying to keep that land as open space and those efforts are continuing.
He said the township would be interested in gaining the help of Phillipsburg Riverview Organization.
"We want to keep it open because most people in Franklin Township don't want a development there," he said. "It will ruin the rural character."
King didn't give a timeline for when township officials may decide how to spend the Green Acres funds, but said once they do, they'll apply for more.
The matching grant is just the latest the organization has received from Green Acres.
Earlier this year, the group contributed roughly $500,000 in Green Acres funds to help Holland Township purchase the 90-acre Shire property, and in 2004 PRO put forth $500,000 toward the purchase of the 466-acre Buckhorn Creek parcel in White Township.
Reporter Linda Lisanti can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.